Education & Family

Ministers to woo Latin American students

Rio de Janeiro skyline
Brazil is 38th in a league table of countries sending students to the UK

Two British ministers are mounting a charm offensive in Latin America to try to attract potential students to come to universities in the UK.

Business Secretary Vince Cable and universities minister David Willetts travel to the emerging economies of Brazil, Mexico and Colombia on Monday.

UK universities have seen big falls in the number of students coming from countries such as India, which have traditionally been the biggest players.

Many blame tighter student visa rules.

UK universities are increasingly reliant on the income they command from the higher fees charged to non-EU students.

And many have been concerned about a fall in international recruitment after a crackdown on immigration.

Last year's decision to strip London Metropolitan University of its licence to sponsor foreign students over immigration concerns prompted fears that potential foreign students would feel they were not welcome in the UK. That license has now been reinstated.

'Big player'

Now ministers are turning to Latin America to attract students to come to study for an undergraduate degree or a PhD in one of the UK's world-leading universities.

Mr Cable is visiting Brazil, which has made it clear it wants to increase its number of graduates, with many being educated in the West.

He will highlight the success of the Science Without Borders scheme, a Brazilian government scholarship programme which aims to send 101,000 Brazilian students on higher education courses in different parts of the world including the UK.

The programme allows Brazilian students to spend three months in industrial placements with businesses such as Ford UK, GlaxoSmithKline and Unilever as part of a degree course.

So far more than 1,100 undergraduates have benefited from the programme.

The number of Brazilian students coming to the UK has traditionally not been as high as many other countries. Despite its vast population, it is 38th in the international league table of countries sending students to the UK, below much smaller countries such as Kuwait and Jordan.

In 2011-12 just 1,340 students from Brazil were studying in the UK. But that is expected to grow considerably as a result of the Science Without Borders initiative.

Impact

At the same time as Mr Cable's Brazil trip, Mr Willetts is to visit Mexico and Colombia in a bid to raise the profile of higher education in the UK.

Before the visit, he said: "Few countries are able to match the UK for providing a top-quality university education. The success of Science Without Borders in attracting Brazilian students is testament to this, and although the programme will generate over £200m for the UK economy, its impact goes far beyond the financial.

"Attracting more students from emerging economies like Mexico and Colombia will lead to other forms of engagement between them and the UK in the future, such as study exchanges for UK students and research collaborations."

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said Mexico and Colombia were two growing economies who were seen as "big players" in Latin America.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said she was very encouraged that the government was using these visits to promote the UK's world-leading university system.

"There are a number of exciting higher education initiatives underway to increase links between countries in Latin American and the UK.

"It highlights the importance of international students to the UK and provides another opportunity to repeat the message that there is no cap on the number of genuine university students who can study here.

"We welcome many students from around the world, and a growing number from Latin America. The UK remains second only to the United States in terms of the strength of its university system and we attract more overseas students than almost any other country in the world. UK universities have a worldwide reputation for excellence in research and teaching, offering a rich and diverse range of courses."

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